The skies in the distance of the Treasure hillside were hazy in mid-August as the Parleys Canyon Fire and other wildfires in the region continued to burn. Park City officials want to reduce the risk of a wildfire on the City Hall-owned Treasure acreage, and a prescribed burn could eventually be one of the strategies they employ.Park Record file photo
Park City leaders later in September are expected to begin talks about whether to eventually pursue a prescribed burn on the City Hall-owned Treasure acreage overlooking Old Town, a widely employed technique in the management of land where wildfires are a threat.
The prospects of a prescribed burn were outlined in a submittal to City Hall as part of an agreement with a Wanship firm called Alpine Forestry LLC for services related to reducing the risk of a wildfire on the high-profile hillside. The Park City Council at a recent meeting authorized an agreement valued at up to $300,000.
The submittal by Alpine Forestry LLC says “burning is the optimal technique for removing cut material, as it eliminates the fuel completely and creates a mosaic patchwork of vegetation in the area burned, more closely mimicking a natural wildfire regime. In certain parts of the project area, it’s the only cost effective method due to limited equipment access or simply the sheer volume of material to be removed.”
Any prescribed burn with near certainty would draw heavy scrutiny from elected officials, people who live in the historic neighborhood and others. A City Council discussion is tentatively planned Sept. 21 about the broad topic of guarding against a wildfire. It is not clear whether the elected officials will discuss the possibility of a prescribed burn on the Treasure land.
In an interview, Heinrich Deters, the trails and open space program manager for City Hall, said a prescribed burn, if pursued, would involve removing vegetation deemed to be a threat, putting the removed vegetation into piles on the land and then burning the piles in a controlled environment.
He described that a prescribed burn would not include the ignition of problematic vegetation where it is found, meaning fires would be limited to a contained, pre-selected area rather than being lit across the hillside.
A prescribed burn would be a part of a broader effort that also includes mapping the fire threat and preparing an assessment and a report. The firm will also be tasked with creating so-called defensible space, which includes removing vegetation from land that is close to structures. The space is designed to stop a wildfire from spreading to the nearby structures.
The work on the defensible space is expected to start in early October and continue until the weather turns. The work would restart after the snow melts in the spring or early summer. The timeline for any prescribed burn is not known.
The Alpine Forestry LLC submittal says it has “decades of experience managing prescribed fire for land management agencies” and the firm’s crews “always burn under legal parameters in Summit County and the State of Utah, and only when weather and fuel conditions are favorable for an efficient and clean burn.”
It says it will devise the plans, secure permits and “will revisit the burn area until all heat is extinguished to meet mop-up specifications, usually within 3 days post ignition.” The firm says reseeding during the year after is recommended.
The Treasure acreage stretches across a hillside along the route of the Town Lift and provides a scenic backdrop to Old Town. City Hall acquired the land in 2019 in a $64 million conservation deal, ending a development dispute that stretched for longer than a decade.
Old Town has long been seen as one of the Park City-area neighborhoods most at risk of a wildfire. The tightly packed neighborhood climbs onto the surrounding hillsides, and there is concern that a wildfire could quickly spread in Old Town and through the nearby slopes of Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort.
Any prescribed burn on the Treasure land would be expected to be highly visible with a location overlooking Old Town. The smoke would rise above the historic district and likely also be seen from places like the Aerie and parts of Deer Valley. It would also be expected to be visible from numerous points elsewhere in Park City and certain locations in the Snyderville Basin. A widespread public-information effort prior to any burn would be anticipated.
There has been renewed attention to the threat of wildfires this month after the Parleys Canyon Fire ripped through hundreds of acres near the western edge of Summit County, forcing evacuations in Summit Park, Pinebrook and Timberline. The blaze did not threaten the Park City limits, but the issue of guarding against a wildfire was further magnified with a giant plume of smoke rising above the community.